England, London, Thursday, May 1, 1851.

LONDON, Thursday, May 1, 1851.

Our Human Life is either comic or tragic, according to the point of view
from which we regard it. The observer will be impelled to laugh or to
weep over it, as he shall fix his attention on men’s follies or their
sufferings. So of the Great Exhibition, and more especially its Royal
Inauguration, which I have just returned from witnessing. There can be
no serious doubt that the Fair has good points; I think it is a good
thing for London first, for England next, and will ultimately benefit
mankind. And yet, it would not be difficult so to depict it (and truly),
that its contrivers and managers would never think of deeming the
picture complimentary.

But let us have the better side first by all means. The show is
certainly a great one, greater in extent, in variety, and in the
excellence of a large share of its contents, than the world has hitherto
seen. The Crystal Palace, which covers and protects all, is better than
any one thing it contains, it is really a fairy wonder, and is a work of
inestimable value as a suggestion for future architecture. It is not
merely better adapted to its purpose than any other edifice ever yet
built could be, but it combines remarkable cheapness with vast and
varied utility. Depend on it, stone and timber will have to stand back
for iron and glass hereafter, to an extent not yet conceivable. The
triumph of Paxton is perfect, and heralds a revolution.

The day has been very favorable–fair, bland and dry. It is now 4 P. M.
and there has been no rain since daylight, but a mere sprinkle at noon
unregarded by us insiders–the longest exemption from “falling weather”
I have known since I left New York, and I believe the daily showers or
squalls in this city reach still further back. True, even this day would
be deemed a dull one in New York, but there was a very fair imitation of
sunshine this morning, and we enjoy rather more than American moonlight
still, though the sky is partially clouded. [How can they have had the
conscience to tax _such_ light as they get up in this country?] Of
course the turn out has been immense; I estimate the number inside of
the building at thirty thousand, and I presume ten times as many went
out of their way to gaze at the Procession, though that was not much. Our
New York Fire Department could beat it; so could our Odd-Fellows.–Then
the most perfect order was preserved throughout; everything was done in
season and without botching; no accident occurred to mar the festivity,
and the general feeling was one of hearty satisfaction. If it were a new
thing to see a Queen, Court and aristocracy engaged in doing marked honor
to Industry, they certainly performed gracefully the parts allotted them,
and with none of the awkwardness or blundering which novel situations are
expected to excuse. But was the play well cast?

The Sovereign in a monarchy is of course always in order: to be honored
for doing his whole duty; to be honored more signally if he does more
than his duty. Prince Albert’s sphere as the Sovereign’s consort is very
limited, and he shows rare sense and prudence in never evincing a desire
to overstep it. I think few men live who could hold his neutral and
hampered position and retain so entirely the sincere respect and esteem
of the British Nation. His labors in promoting this Exhibition began
early and have been arduous, persistent and effective. Any Inauguration
of the Fair in which he did not prominently figure would have done him
injustice. The Queen appears to be personally popular in a more direct
and positive sense. I cannot remember that any one act of her public
life has ever been condemned by the public sentiment of the Country.
Almost every body here appears to esteem it a condescension for her to
open the Exhibition as though it were a Parliament, and with far more of
personal exertion and heartiness on her part. And while I must regard
her vocation as one rather behind the intelligence of this age and
likely to go out of fashion at no distant day, yet I am sure that change
will not come through _her_ fault. I was glad to see her in the pageant
to-day, and hope she enjoyed it while ministering to the enjoyment of

But let us reverse the glass for a moment. The ludicrous, the dissonant,
the incongruous, are not excluded from the Exhibition: they cannot be
excluded from any complete picture of its Opening. The Queen, we will
say, was here by Right Divine, by right of Womanhood, by Universal
Suffrage–any how you please. The ceremonial could not have spared her.
But in inaugurating the first grand cosmopolitan Olympiad of Industry,
ought not Industry to have had some representation, some vital
recognition, in her share of the pageant? If the Queen had come in state
to the Horse-Guards to review the _élite_ of her military forces, no one
would doubt that “the Duke” should figure in the foreground, with a
brilliant staff of Generals and Colonels surrounding him. So, if she
were proceeding to open Parliament her fitting attendants would be
Ministers and Councillors of State. But what have her “Gentleman Usher
of Sword and State,” “Lords in Waiting,” “Master of the Horse,” “Earl
Marshal,” “Groom of the Stole,” “Master of the Buckhounds,” and such
uncouth fossils, to do with a grand Exhibition of the fruits of
Industry? What, in their official capacity, have these and theirs ever
had to do with Industry unless to burden it, or with its Products but
to consume or destroy them? The “Mistress of the Robes” would be in
place if she ever fashioned any robes, even for the Queen; so would the
“Ladies of the Bedchamber” if they did anything with beds except to
sleep in them. As the fact is, their presence only served to strengthen
the presumption that not merely their offices but that of Royalty itself
is an anachronism, and all should have deceased with the era to which
they properly belonged. It was well indeed that Paxton should have a
proud place in the procession; but he held it in no representative
capacity; he was there not in behalf of Architecture but of the Crystal
Palace. To have rendered the pageant expressive, congruous, and really a
tribute to Industry, the posts of honor next the Queen’s person should
have been confided on this occasion to the children of Watt, of
Arkwright and their compeers (Napoleon’s _real_ conquerors;) while
instead of Grandees and Foreign Embassadors, the heirs of Fitch, of
Fulton, of Jacquard, of Whitney, of Daguerre, &c., with the discoverers,
inventors, architects and engineers to whom the world is primarily
indebted for Canals, Railroads, Steamships, Electric Telegraphs, &c.,
&c., should have been specially invited to swell the Royal cortege. To
pass over all these, and summon instead the descendants of some dozen
lucky Norman robbers, none of whom ever contemplated the personal doing
of any real work as even a remote possibility, and any of whom would
feel insulted by a report that his father or grandfather invented the
Steam Engine or Spinning Jenny, is not the fittest way to honor
Industry. The Queen’s Horticulturists, Gardeners, Carpenters,
Upholsterers, Milliners, &c., would have been far more in place in the
procession than her “gold stick,” “silver stick,” and kindred

And yet, empty and blundering as the conception of this pageant may seem
and is, there is nevertheless marrow and hope in it. “The world _does_
move,” O Galileo! carrying onward even those who forced you to deny the
truth you had demonstrated! We may well say that these gentlemen in
ribbons and stars cannot truly honor Labor while they would deem its
performance by their own sons a degradation; but the grandfathers of
these Dukes and Barons would have deemed themselves as much dishonored
by uniting in this Royal ovation to gingham weavers and boiler-makers as
these men would by being compelled to weave the cloth and forge the iron
themselves. Patience, impetuous souls! the better day dawns, though the
morning air is chilly. We shall be able to elect something else than
Generals to the Presidency before this century is out, and the Right of
every man to live by Labor–consequently, to a place where he _may_
live, on the sole condition that he is willing to labor–stands high on
the general orders, and must soon be up for National and universal
discussion. The Earls and Dukes of a not distant day will train their
sons in schools of Agriculture, Architecture, Chemistry, Mineralogy,
&c., inspiring each to win fame and rank for himself by signal and
brilliant usefulness, instead of resting upon and wearing out the fame
won by some ancestor on the battle-field of the old barbarian time. Even
To-Day’s hollow pageant is an augury of this. It is Browning, I think,
who says,

“All men become good creatures, _but so slow_.”

Let us, taking heart from the reflection that we live in the age of the
Locomotive and the Telegraph, cheerfully press onward!

We will consider the Fair opened.

I shall venture no especial criticisms as yet–first because the
Exhibition is not ready for it; next because I am in the same
predicament. A few general observations must close this letter.

Immense as the quantity of goods offered for exhibition is, it is not
equal to the enormous capacity of the building, to which Castle Garden
is but a dog-kennel. [I do hope we may have a Crystal Palace of like
proportions in New-York within two years; it would be of inestimable
worth as a study to our young architects, builders and artisans. If such
an edifice were constructed in some fit locality to be leased out in
portions, under proper regulations, for stores, I believe it would pay
handsomely. Each store might be separated from those next it by
partitions of iron and glass; the fronts might be made of movable plates
of glass or left entirely open; the entire building being opened at
eight in the morning, closed at eight at night, and carefully watched at
all times.] True, many things are yet to be received, and some already
in the building remain in the boxes; still, I think there will be some
nakedness, even a week hence. The opportunity for seeing every thing,
judging every thing, is all the better for this, and indeed is

The display from different countries is very unequal, even in proportion:
Old England is of course here in her might; France has a vast collection,
especially of articles appealing to taste or fancy; but Germany and the
rest of the Continent have less than I expected to see; and the show from
the United States disappoints many by its alleged meagerness. I do not
view it in the same light, nor regret, with a New-York merchant whom I
met in the Fair to-day, that Congress did not appropriate $100,000 to
secure a full and commanding exhibition of American products at this
Fair. I do not see how any tangible and adequate benefit to the Nation
would have resulted from such a dubious disposition of National funds.
In the first place, our great Agricultural staples–at least, all such
as find markets abroad–are already accessible and well known here.
Bales of Cotton, casks of Hams or other Meats, barrels of Flour or
Resin, hogsheads of Tobacco, &c., might have been heaped up here as high
as St. Paul’s steeple–to what end? Europeans already know that we
produce these staples in abundance and perfection, and when they want them
they buy of us. I doubt whether cumbering the Fair with them would have
either promoted the National interest or exalted the National reputation.
It would have served rather to deepen the impression, already too general
both at home and abroad, that we are a rude, clumsy people, inhabiting a
broad, fertile domain, affording great incitements to the most slovenly
description of Agriculture, and that it is our policy to stick to that,
and let alone the nicer processes of Art, which require dexterity and
delicacy of workmanship. We must outgrow this error.

Our Manufacturers are in many departments grossly deficient, in others
inferior to the best rival productions of Europe. In Silks and Linens,
we have nothing now to show; I trust the case will be bravely altered
within a few years. In broad cloths, we are behind and going behind, but
in Satinets, Flannels, (woolen) Shawls, De Laines, Ginghams, Drills and
most plain Cottons, we are producing as effectively as our rivals, and
in many departments gaining upon them. But few of these are goods which
make much show in a Fair; three cases of Parisian gewgaws will outshine
in an exhibition a million dollars’ worth of admirable and cheap
Muslins, Drills, Flannels, &c. And beside, our Manufacturers, who find
themselves met at every turn, and often supplanted at their own doors by
showy fabrics from abroad, are shy of calling attention in Europe to the
few articles which, by the help of valuable American inventions, they
are able to make and sell at a profit. I know this consideration has
kept some goods and more machinery at home which would otherwise have
been here. The manufacturers are here or are coming, to see what
knowledge or skill they can pick up, but they are not so ready to tell
all they know. They think the odds in favor of those who work against
them backed by the cheap Labor and abundant Capital of Europe, are
quite sufficient already.

Still, there are some Yankee Notions that I wish had been sent over. I
think our Cut Nails, our Pins, our Wood Screws, &c. should have been
represented. India Rubber is abundant here, but I have seen no Gutta
Percha, and our New-York Company (Hudson Manufacturing) might have put a
new wrinkle on John Bull’s forehead by sending over an assorted case of
their fabrics. The Brass and kindred fabrics of Waterbury (Conn.) ought
not to have come up missing, and a set of samples of the “Flint Enameled
Ware” of Vermont, I should have been proud of for Vermont’s sake. A
light Jersey wagon, a Yankee ox-cart, and two or three sets of American
Farming Implements, would have been exactly in play here. Our Scythes,
Cradles, Hoes, Rakes, Axes, Sowing, Reaping, Threshing and Winnowing
machines, &c., &c., are a long distance ahead of the British–so the
best judges say; and where their machines are good they cost too much
ever to come into general use. There is a pretty good set of Yankee
Ploughs here, and they are likely to do good. I believe Connecticut
Clocks and Maine (North Wayne) Axes are also well represented. But
either Rochester, Syracuse, or Albany could have beaten the whole show
in Farming Tools generally.

Yet there are many good things in the American department. In
Daguerreotypes, it seems to be conceded that we beat the world, when
excellence and cheapness are both considered–at all events, England is
no where in comparison–and our Daguerreotypists make a great show
here.–New Jersey Zinc, Lake Superior Copper, Adirondack Iron and Steel,
are well represented either by ores or fabrics, and I believe California
Gold is to be.–But I am speaking on the strength of a very hasty
examination. I shall continue in attendance from day to day and hope to
glean from the show some ideas that may be found or made useful.

P. S.–The Official Catalogue of the Fair is just issued. It has been
got up in great haste, and must necessarily be imperfect, but it extends
to 320 double-column octavo pages on brevier type (not counting
advertisements) and is sold for a shilling–(24 cents). Some conception
of the extent of the Fair may be obtained from the following hasty
summary of a portion of the contents, showing the number of Exhibitors
in certain departments, as classified in the Official Catalogue, viz:


Coal, Slate, Grindstone, Limestone, Granite, &c.
(outside the building), 44

Mining and Mineral Products (inside), 366

Chemical and Pharmaceutical Products, 103

Substances used as Food, 133

Vegetable and Animal Substances
used in Manufactures, 94

Machines for Direct Use, including
Carriages, Railway and Marine Mechanism, 339

Manufacturing Machines and Tools, 225

Civil Engineering and Building Contrivances, 177

Naval Architecture, Guns, Weapons, &c. 260

Agricultural and Horticultural Machines
and Implements, 287

Philosophical, Musical, Horological and
Surgical Instruments, 535
Total, so far, 2563

The foregoing occupy but 55 of the 300 pages devoted expressly to the
Catalogue, so that the whole number of Exhibitors cannot be less than
Ten Thousand, and is probably nearer Fifteen Thousand; and as two
articles from each would be a low estimate, I think the number of
distinct articles already on exhibition cannot fall below Thirty
Thousand, counting all of any class which may be entered by a single
exhibitor as one article. Great Britain fills 136 pages of the
Catalogue; her Colonies and Foreign possessions 48 more; Austria 16;
Belgium 8, China 2, Denmark 1, Egypt 2½, France and Algiers 35, Prussia
and the Zoll Verein States 19; Bavaria 2, Saxony 5, Wirtemburg 2, Hesse,
Nassau and Luxemburg 3, Greece 1, Hamburgh 1, Holland 2, Portugal 3½;
Madeira 1, Papal State ½, Russia 5, Sardinia 1½, Spain 5, Sweden and
Norway 1, Switzerland 5, Tunis 2½, Tuscany 2, United States 8½. So the
United States stands fifth on the list of contributing Countries,
ranking next after Great Britain herself, France, Austria, and Prussian
Germany, and far ahead of Holland and Switzerland, which have long been
held up as triumphant examples of Industrial progress and thrift under
Free Trade; and these, with all the countries which show more than we
do, are close at hand, while our country is on the average more than
4,000 miles off.–I am confirmed in my view that the cavils at the
meagerness of our contribution are not well grounded.


  • The Project Gutenberg EBook of Glances at Europe, by Horace Greeley